“Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” —American Educator, John Dewey

Whether you are a teacher or a parent…you know the value of gathering your family/community together to share news, play with ideas, sing a song and be creative together. You might be sitting in a circle around the dinner table or on the floor in a classroom but these times we share with our young children are essential for developing a sense of identity in a group.

As a teacher your day starts with the gathering of children’s interests and energies, creating a community for collective sharing and learning that lasts throughout the day.  As a parent your day ends with a gathering around a shared evening meal filled with family and community. In school or at home…your “circle”  is a modern interpretation of ancient “circles” that have joined people together in heart and song for centuries.  Throughout history, the circle has been used by many cultures as a place to share ideas on equal ground through conversation, story, dance, and song.  Given this history, it’s no wonder that circle time has traditionally been an integral part of the young child’s day.

So, gather around an “imaginary campfire” to experience some interesting activities that promote the joy of community at home and at school.

Pass the Stone: How do you get a group of energetic individuals to quietly gather as a group?  One way is to invite children to silently pass a stone, shell or other natural item around the circle.  This process of slowly and silently passing something of beauty encourages children to quiet themselves, slow down and focus.

Headline News: Sharing a class or family full of personal news can take much more time than young children have the patience to listen to.   Try inviting you children to share just the “headlines” of their news instead of the entire story.  You can demonstrate how a headline is a short sentence or statement by showing some appropriate headlines in a newspaper.

Tell Circle Stories: All you need is a colorful bag or pillowcase and some interesting items to put in it to start the magic of circular storytelling.  Collect items such as dolls, puppets, stuffed animals, toy vehicles or tools, plastic foods, nature items ….anything that could become a character or element in a story.  Start the story by reaching in the sack and taking out the first surprise element.  Use it to begin the story and then pass the sack to the child next to you on the circle whom then reaches inside and continues telling the story using the new item she pulled out of the sack. Continue this all the way around the circle and back to you to end the story.  This is particularly fun to do as an after dinner activity!

Simon Says, “Listen”:   In this variation, children have to listen carefully and do what the leader SAYS, not follow what she is doing.  For example, you might say, “Touch your head” while you are actually touching your toes.  This takes concentration and practice. Don’t consider children “out” if they make a mistake! Just keep on trying and laughing!

Crazy Creative Questions:  Young children are filled with great questions and so should your group time.  Invite children to consider some creative answers to some of their own questions such as: “Why do leaves change colors?  Where do rainbows come from”.  Their answers always are a wonderful indicator of their level of thinking.  Ask some crazy questions of our own:  “What if animals could talk?  How many different ways can you use a banana?”  Or bring in something unusual for children to examine and invite them to suggest how it might be used.  Remember, there are NEVER any wrong answers to open-ended questions.

Great Group Creations: You can celebrate group cooperation by creating the worlds longest cooperative paper chain. Use strips of paper that get taped together in loops. Or try a cooperative song in which children all suggest a verse. Instead of the “wheels on the bus” it could be “the pizza on the bus”!